Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

Westside

December 18, 2012

New state schools leader learning lessons in politics

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s new schools superintendent, Glenda Ritz, is making some allies in the Statehouse: Republican legislators who pushed the education-reform laws that triggered a wave of voter discontent that carried the Democrat Ritz into her new job.

Those alliances could lead to some changes in how some of the laws, aimed at boosting teacher accountability and increasing student achievement, are being implemented. A hint of what those changes may be came last week at a legislative preview conference where Ritz shared a microphone — and some common ground — with a would-be adversary, Republican state Senate Education Committee chairman Dennis Kruse.

Both said the new A-to-F grading system for schools has been a failure; both are critical of a high-stakes teacher-evaluation tool that ties teacher pay to student test scores; and both want the state to commit to fully funding full-day kindergarten before its starts doling out dollars for pre-kindergarten programs. And both, despite their significant differences on some major issues — including the private-school vouchers and the expansion of charter schools that Kruse favors — have pledged to work together to get some things done.

“I’ve never, ever asked, in any position that I’ve served in leadership in, anybody’s political party and I don’t intend to pay attention to that now,” said Ritz, the only Democrat elected to statewide office in November. “I’m going to talk to whomever I need to talk to, to be sure I have what I need to get things done.”

Ritz, 60, is a longtime classroom teacher who likes to say she’s “an educator, not a politician.”

It’s true she’d never run for office before this year, when she switched political parties to take on the current superintendent of public instruction, Republican Tony Bennett. Bennett, who lost the November race, was appointed head of the Florida schools system last week. But Ritz is practicing some good politics in forging relationships with some key Republicans; it’s their party that holds super-majority control of both the state House and Senate.

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